The St. Petersburg Times recently published articles about the SPCA Tampa Bay. These helped raise awareness regarding the many unwanted animals in Pinellas County, including the more than 15,000 that find their way to the SPCA every year. The articles, letters and blog comments helped us understand that we needed to better communicate our policies. As a result, we have already made many changes, and we will continue to find more ways to improve.
As people who care for animals, we, of course, want to reduce our euthanasia rate.
Questions regarding the euthanasia of "treatable" animals bring up a sad point, the prioritization of resources. Unfortunately, there are many conditions that have the potential to be managed, but cannot be treated due to a lack of resources.
Certain conditions in the "treatable" category, such as cancer, severe orthopedic problems, hip dysplasia and neurologic disorders, are very expensive diseases that are also stressful for new owners even when they are willing to make the commitment. Unfortunately, the choice sometimes becomes whether to spend $5,000 treating one pet, or using that money to treat $50 problems in 100 pets. More donations would help tremendously.
Staff and volunteer time is another limited resource. Some treatable conditions, for example, require around-the-clock care. Although there are some volunteers willing to take on these challenges, they are, unfortunately, too few. More volunteers would simply save more animals.
There is also a lack of available homes for pets with special needs. While many claim to want to take on a "less-than-perfect" pet, few actually do. Most people will not adopt if a special diet or relatively inexpensive daily medication is required, much less insulin injections for diabetes or challenges of an epileptic pet, both of which are in the "treatable" category.
It would be very easy to reduce our euthanasia rate. We could turn away unhealthy, elderly and underage animals. We could halt our emergency ambulance service, which runs 24/7 to provide for sick or injured strays. We could close our doors when our shelter is full. But this is not our mission. We take in owned animals and sick and injured strays. These animals otherwise would go to county shelters, which have up to a 90 percent euthanasia rate.
We realize that no one animal shelter can solve the problem alone. Real solutions require community collaboration. We are committed to working with the broader community to help solve the community challenge of unwanted animals.
More people need to adopt pets versus buying them from retail outlets or Internet sources that perpetuate the atrocities of puppy mills. Nationally only 20 percent of the public chooses to adopt. We will continue working to find more adoptive parents.
Spaying/neutering is also an important solution. Our year-round program for the pets of people on limited incomes is in its 19th year. This month we are offering free surgeries for cats. Also, Fix-A-Pit is our free, year-round program for pit bull terriers and pit mixes.
Nationally almost 70 percent of the adolescent animals were relinquished because either the owners had no time to learn behavior basics, or refused to make the commitment to teach their pets. To help, we have offered all pet owners a free help line since 2000. During the past five years we have enhanced our behavior program to make shelter dogs more adoptable. Adopters can take free and low-cost classes to build a lasting bond with their new pets.
I urge you to find out more about the SPCA Tampa Bay. If you have room in your heart, but not your home, there are a number of other ways to help. Just give us a call or visit spcatampabay.org.
Jeff Fox is president of the SPCA Tampa Bay board of directors.